Smart Vote strategy during 2021 elections

Yesterday the three-day voting at the Duma elections has ended in Russia, and while we still wait for the official final results, already a lot of concern has arisen about the quality of the elections. Margarita Zavadskaya was interviewed about the Smart Vote by Yle Radio programme MPA (Maailmanpolitiikan arkipäivää), where she said that this strategy has been so far the most powerful strategy of combating United Russia candidates. The Smart Vote strategy seemed to be working in Moscow, until electronic voting results were added to the offline ones. Listen more about Smart Vote on Yle starting from the 21st minute and follow our blog for upcoming analytics on the 2021 State Duma elections.

Are trust in government and willingness to get vaccinated connected?

While almost half of the population in Finland has received the first jab of coronavirus vaccination, while others patiently wait to get their turn, in Russia, despite several Russian-produced vaccinations being available, the residents don’t hurry to get vaccinated. In the new article by Euronews, several Russians living abroad tell about their experience of Sputnik tourism – they decided not to wait for their turn in Finland, but rather get the jabs in Russia, where there is plenty of opportunities to do that.

Margarita Zavadskaya was asked what could explain such stark differences between the Russian and Finnish populations:

Studies have shown that COVID vaccine hesitation in Russia is as high as 62%, said Margarita Zavadskaya, a postdoctoral researcher at the Finnish Centre for Russian and East European Studies – the Aleksanteri Institute – at the University of Helsinki.

There are different reasons for the hesitation she said. Some distrust anything from the government, while others trust the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, but not that it is necessarily transported, handled and given correctly. And then, there are also just people, who are traditional anti-vaxxers as we know them from elsewhere: people generally opposing vaccination.

“The main explanation is, however, an extremely low level of trust in political institutions and authorities,” said Zavadskaya.

With a heavy legacy from Soviet times and recent optimisation reforms, some local hospitals have been closed; and there is a lack of funding in the health sector with outdated equipment.

“Russian health care institutions are in an obsolete state, and COVID-19 has exacerbated existing problems,” explained Zavadskaya.

Many Russians are not flocking to get a COVID shot because they’re not concerned about the virus. Surveys show that 38% of Russians think that the whole virus is a hoax. The central administration in Moscow has generally been hesitant to impose nationwide restrictions in order to reduce the spread of the virus. Instead, President Vladimir Putin has for the most part delegated the COVID response to the regions, which is very unusual in today’s highly centralised Russia, Zavadskaya noted.

“This is Putin’s way of keeping himself out of the political blame game if things go wrong,” she deemed.

The full article is available online.

Russia’s GenZ: Progressive or Reactionary?

Margarita Zavadskaya wrote an article for Riddle about what values the youth in Russia shares. In the piece titled “Russia’s GenZ: Progressive or Reactionary?” Margarita explores whether there is indeed a generational change in Russia, along with the growing demand for a new political reality? And does the Russian youth really have more liberal normative values than their older fellow citizens? Margarita Zavadskaya answers these questions, based on the comparison of the value orientations of survey respondents aged 15-25 with those of older age. This comparison is based on the World Values Survey and the European Values Survey for 2017.

Read the full version of the article on Riddle in English or in Russian.

#FreeNavalny campaign

Alexey Navalny has been more than two months behind the bars already, after his return from post-poisoning rehabilitation in Germany. His supporters back in February promised to resume the protests in spring, and now they plan to organise new and unprecedented street protests.

Margarita Zavadskaya was one of the experts whom openDemocracy interviewed about the forthcoming protests – how efficient the new campaign could be? According to Zavadskaya, Navalny’s team strategy is well-justified: such visualisation of the opposition supporters will send a signal not only to the authorities, but also other people who maybe are afraid to go to the streets yet – now they will be able to see that they are not alone. And as we know, the more people attend rallies, the more costly it is for the authorities to repress them.

Read the full version of the article in Russian online.

Russia #FreeNavalny Protests: Toilet Brushes and Akvadiskoteka

Margarita Zavadskaya has contributed to the latest episode of “Talk about power” podcast “Russia #FreeNavalny Protests: Toilet Brushes and Akvadiskoteka”.

Walter and Macon talk to Russian opposition figures and organizers affiliated Alexei Navalny’s political network about the recent #FreeNavalny protests. Why are Russians protesting? How does the opposition organize? Why is corruption such a potent issue in Russia? What does this mean for Putin’s hold on power? Walter and Macon conclude with takeaways for U.S. policymakers and others in the West.

You can listen to the episode below:

Coronavirus exacerbated fundamental problems that had accumulated before the pandemic

Margarita Zavadskaya gave an interview to “European dialogue”, which was published yesterday in the article “Coronavirus exacerbated fundamental problems that had accumulated before the pandemic” (Коронавирус обострил фундаментальные проблемы, которые накопились до пандемии). Despite the pandemic (or because of it?), the year 2020 was full of protests. Dr. Zavadskaya was asked to reflect upon the new protest trends, her answers in Russian can be found online. Read this insightful interview to find out how the imposed during the pandemic restrictions affect mobilisations, what is the difference between protests in authoritarian regimes and democracies, and what is the fate of long-term protesting.

Reaction to light

On the 14th of February Navalny’s team decided to organise an event of a new format – “Love is stronger than fear”. Everyone who wanted to protest police brutality and arrests of Navalny and other political prisoners was encouraged to go with lights and candles into their yards at 20:00 on Valentine’s day. It is not possible to learn how many people participated in the event, though one thing is clear – police did not detain or beat up anyone, unlike during the previous protests in January and February 2021.

Margarita Zavadskaya was interviewed about the 14th of February protest by Current Time TV (Настоящее время). Doctor Zavadskaya said that the event could be counted as successful – it allowed the neighbors to get to know each other and create the new social links together with “normalisation” of the protests, which was made safe again. This is important for future protests, and the plans of Navalny’s team to resume the mobilisation later in Spring seem plausible; however, according to Margarita, it is too early to expect that there will be large protests after the Duma elections in September 2021. It is highly unlikely that the authorities would allow prominent opposition leaders to take part in the election, and this would decrease the initiative of protesters to go to the streets against electoral fraud.

Ongoing Russian protests are inevitably compared to the Belarusian ones. Margarita Zavadskaya, however, warns not to think of them as similar phenomena – in Belarus, a much higher share of the population engaged in protest activity, and the level of protest brutality there outraged not only the opposition but also the Belarusians at large. The Belarusian regime lost its popular support, while in Russia, the status quo is still supported in general.

You can watch the full interview embedded below, 08:30-24:40:

The meaning of protests in authoritarian regimes

In 2021 there were already 3 protest days in Russia in support of Navalny, freedoms and rights of the Russian citizens. While they attracted thousands of people across the country, many doubt their power – after these demonstrations and those of the last years seemingly nothing changed for the better in terms of liberalisation. Meduza asked ElMaRB researchers Margarita Zavadskaya and Elena Gorbacheva together with Alexey Gilev (HSE Spb) to discuss protests in authoritarian regimes from the political science perspective. The results can be found online on Meduza website.

Is Kremlin afraid of the protests?

This week Margarita Zavadskaya was invited to Meduza’s podcast “What happened” to share her thoughts on the recent events and the transformations Russian regime has been going through. Margarita and the host Vladislav Gorin talked about the protests of the last weeks, organised by Alexey Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation team, and how the regime reacts to them. They also discussed in details the current type of Russian regime – personalistic authoritarianism – and Margarita Zavadskaya explained what it fears and how it tries to fight the incoming challenges.

While many things in Russia may seem gloomy, there are several points that can give us hope. First, the society in Russia is more mature than it has been and is not content anymore with the political system in the country. This society has overgrown the personalistic regime and is ready for changes. Second, there are now more organisations and civil associations in Russian regions (the legacy of 2011-2012 ‘For Fair Elections’ movement) and there is also the network of Navalny offices opened after 2017 – this infrastructure and the social capital and experiences that accumulate after each protest wave give Russian opposition a chance for success.

Listen to the full version of podcast in Russian on Meduza website or at the podcasts platform you use.

Naiset Navalnyin takana

Alexei Navalny has been in the constant centre of attention since his return on 17th of January in Russia, after months of therapy in Berlin that followed a luckily failed attempt on his life with Novichok poison in August 2020. Finnish media also devotes a lot of attention to the Russian opposition leader, and on Saturday Helsingin Sanomat published a large piece on the women that stand behind Navalny (Naiset Navalnyin takana).

Margarita Zavadskaya was interviewed for the article and she shared her opinion on the role of women in opposition and argues that it is too early to speak about their breakthrough in Belarus, where Tsikhanouskaya and other powerful women became the leaders when the previous, “typical” opposition leaders who were their husbands and male colleagues, were imprisoned or sent abroad. In the case of Russia, Lyubov Sobol and other FBK women, like regional coordinators Ksenia Fadeyeva from Tomsk and Lilija Сhanysheva from Ufa are seen by authorities already as full-blooded opposition politicians.

The full version of the article can be found on HS website.